A Taste of the Delta

To me the Delta feels like homecoming. It’s intoxicating. Here I am on my oceangoing vessel on a river in the country. I happily feel myself transforming into the river rat and feel I could stay forever. In the distance traveling the levy network is light country traffic. Closer by I hear sheep and chickens. An otter plays behind the boat. Birds by the thousands sing to us, so distinctly different from the sounds of BART and city traffic and sirens, which don’t exist here. At night the bullfrogs sing so loudly they almost keep us awake.

Once we sailed through San Francisco bay the trip became a leisurely motor boat trip up river, through channels that became gradually narrower and shallower. We had to attend carefully to depths and to channel markers, which required a different kind of focus than when sailing in the bay. Time, and life, slowed down as we motored under bridges and past small towns. Gradually the scenery changed from cityscape to industrial. At the waters edge we passed the C&H sugar factory. Train tracks that haul both freight and passengers travel behind it. Residences sprout along the river bank, and from river front restaurants river dwellers watch our progress. The channel narrows but the river widens as it flows to the bay and still we work our way up river. Grassy islands appear in the river. Little runabouts are anchored around them. Small sport fishing boats dot the water fishing lines lazily floating around them. Vast expanses of flat farmland come into focus with the river running through them. Turning off the river and up a slough the waterway and channel narrow again as farmland surrounds us. In the distance we see an abandoned and dilapidated red and black crane on a barge that marks our final turn. Left of the crane are grassy shallows. The water is extremely high due to a very rainy winter following years of drought. The crane on the barge is submerged half way up its windows. On the right is a long thin marina bounded by a road atop a levy. Cars cruise along the top of the levy, and in the distance atop a network of levy roads that hold the delta water. Slowly we drift down the channel until the levy closes in from our left and another marina appears with a big welcome sign with an owl on it, our next home. The reason for the owl is soon obvious; at one end of the marina live the barn owls, and at the other the great horned owls.

The marina staff is happy to have us as part of their community, even for a short stay. They grow vegetables and give them away, and we can get fresh eggs from the chickens for a small donation. The office always has candy or cookies, and coffee to help ourselves to. They encourage tenants to stop in and chat, and seem genuinely interested in making friends. It feels good to be welcome and wanted.

The pluses and the minuses of the Delta are the same. It is just remote enough that you have to work to get there, by boat anyway. Even by car the nearest small town is a ten minute drive. You don’t go to town without a full shopping list. In 30-40 minutes you can reach a larger city with more resources, and in an hour you can be back in the East Bay of San Francisco. If your desire is to unwind, or to focus and work on projects, or even do both, this is the place to be. Here in the delta one can truly become a river rat happily messing about in boats all day.

We fall into a routine– a leisurely coffee and breakfast followed by puttering on boat projects, like installing the preventer or measuring for the new sails we want. Lunch. More puttering. At five o’clock we put tools down. We don jackets and hats soaked in bug spray and with the camera and tripod we set off down the levy toward the crane. There is a beaver that has a small home down the way a bit, and he has a log that he likes to hang out on around sunset. A twenty minute stroll will bring us there in time to set up the tripod and camara, and wait quietly for him to swim up. We stay until the sun sets behind us, watching the owls hunt in the field behind us, waiting for the sometimes elusive beaver to show himself. In the dark we stroll home for dinner, accompanied by a chorus of bullfrogs, birds, and the hooting of owls.